Every once in awhile, a film will come along that I watch with no idea what I am getting into. I like those times. It’s like unwrapping a surprise present.
I had heard about What We Do in the Shadows briefly when I first came to Australia. How is this relevant? Well, that was one of two places a person generally heard about it. The other being New Zealand, the country of the film’s origin.
Dead But Delicious
What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary where a filming crew is following the vampires around for a few months as it leads up to the Unholy Dead Masquerade Ball.
The film stars Taika Waititi (as Viago), Jermaine Clement (as Vladislav), and Jonny Brugh (as Deacon) as vampires who share a house together in Wellington, New Zealand. They have another roommate named Petyr (played by Ben Fransham) who doesn’t leave his room much as he is “8000 years old”.
The film portrays them as just like humans, only with vampirism causing some of their problems. At one point, the characters argue about how Deacon hasn’t done the dishes in 5 years. It is an example of the conflict of living together, conflict of personalities, and the added vampire longevity where time doesn’t pass the same way. It is also pretty hilarious.
Would You Like Some Bisghetti?
The film is an intelligent and funny comedy/horror (because it is vampires, so yeah there is a bit of the horror aspect). One of the things that makes it so funny is the way the actors play off of each other and their characters different eccentricities and personalities. When you can get a small ensemble with that amount of chemistry and that much talent, great things happen. That is evidenced in this film.
The film sets the characters up quickly in the beginning of the film. It gives us their backgrounds before they were vampires, how they got to where they are now, and their relationships over the years.
Viago is a former aristocrat, so he is proper. Vladislav tortured people and is rough. Deacon was a peasant, but he doesn’t like work. Petyr is quiet and sticks to himself mostly now, but is probably the closest to a traditional vampire than the others.
What I love is that the characters are unique. They aren’t generic vampires, yet they are still vampires. Their behaviours etc aren’t romanticized for palatability, they drink people’s blood and play with their food sometimes. In one scene they chase their prey around before they feed.
I Can’t Even Have Any Chips
The film was written as a script, but only the writers, Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, actually saw the script. They wanted it to be natural reactions by the other actors to what was going on. The leads improvised the entire film. One of the things about that is how it sets up things that come back later in the film. At the time you think they are including a throw away idea or character, but they aren’t at all.
It worked, as it added a sense of realism to the film, considering it is vampires. It was just funny to watch slightly exaggerated, real world situations play out.
It is the little things that are done so well, like Viago insisting that towels and newspaper be put down before they drink the blood of their victims to help keep the furniture clean. The next time he feeds on a human, however, he promptly hits the main artery and makes a huge mess of the living room, in spite of the newspaper he put down.
The location, Wellington, is well used.
It is not a large or super busy city, like New York, so it is easier for the vampires to live unnoticed. That is their main thing, no one knows about them. When Nick (played by Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) joins up with them, it’s like he finally has an identity that he may have lacked before he was a vampire. He wants to be someone in the group and in the world. He is trying to fit in with them and be one of them, yet tell the world at large he is a someone.
This obviously leads to problems, including a fight between Deacon and himself where they turn into bats as a result. It sets the stage for the conflicts that test their relationships with each other, and what friendship really means.
Oh No, Petyr Got Him
The single most difficult thing for me to do is to use words to explain what is so magical about this film. On paper it sounds weird and even potentially boring. However there is a spark and a humour in it that I can’t explain without showing you.
It is one of those things that needs to be seen for itself.
I laughed through pretty much the entire film, in fact I still do. It is full of quotable lines and scenes begging to be imitated.
If you are looking for a laugh and don’t mind a bit of swearing and some fake blood, definitely watch this movie. You won’t regret it.